Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf) (Directors Suite) (1974)
Audio Commentary-Mark Freeman, Cinema Academic
Booklet-Essays Jonathan Rosenbaum, Justin Vicari
Featurette-A Powerful Political Potential: Todd Haynes
|Year Of Production||1974|
|Running Time||89:22 (Case: 94)|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Rainer Werner Fassbinder|
El Hedi ben Salem
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Fans of German New Wave Cinema, who have recently been able to pick up a decent amount of back catalogue from Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog, will shortly see the last block fall into place when Madman releases a slew of titles by arguably the most important filmmaker of the bunch - Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
The bulk of the titles are due for release later this year and include several sets including multiple films. Right now Madman are tantalising the senses with what was arguably Fassbinders greatest achievement, Fear Eats the Soul (Angst esen Seele auf). Made in 1974 this film, even more so than Wim Wenders Kings of the Road, was responsible for launching the New Wave on the international stage and making Fassbinder an art house darling if not exactly a household name.
There is a certain irony that Fear became such a hit as it was amongst the most effortless of films for this prolific filmmaker. Legend has it that Fassbinder shoehorned the production into a spare two week period in between the making of two other films. Yet the swift filmmaking style on this occasion paid dividends, creating a raw and immediate film that went straight to the heart of its subjects - love, loneliness and the pain of being an outsider.
Recently, GarryA provided a detailed review of All That Heaven Allows, the Douglas Sirk melodrama. Fassbinder made no apologies for Fear being a thinly veiled remake of that film. In place of "high society meets lowly gardener" from the Sirk film Fassbinder uses age and race as the two factors creating a rift between the lovelorn woman and her family and society.
Emmi (Brigitte Mira) is a good natured 60 year old cleaning lady who has a grown up family but no love in her life. Her husband, a Pole, is long dead and her children are too busy with their own lives. One night, on her way home from work, she gets caught in a downpour and strays into a local bar frequented by immigrant workers and prostitutes. She meets El Hedi Ben Salem (the actor and the character) a comparatively young Moroccan immigrant. He goes by the name Ali as it is a generic name for Morroccans in Germany. After a dare, he offers her a dance. She accepts his invitation.
He offers to walk Emmi home and eventually stays the night. The two genuinely fall in love both suprised to find someone special. When the son of the landlord visits and announces that Emmi has broken the lease by allowing boarders to stay she announces that she and Ali are engaged! Ali says that it is a good idea and the two are secretly wed.
But, of course, society steps in to spoil the fun. They are snubbed wherever they go and Emmi's grown up children (including Fassbinder himself as a repellant son-in-law) are aghast at the union and react angrily to the thought of it. Ironically, it is the grudgung social acceptance of the couple that proves the greatest threat to the couples' future happiness. Fear is a melodrama pure and simple and Fassbinder opts for a direct open approach to the shooting of the film which makes for easier viewing than some of his earlier (and later) films like his last film Querelle.
Fear Eats the Soul won the Critics Prize at Cannes in 1974. Fassbinder's skill is to place his beloved melodrama form in an acute social context to hack away at the hypocrisy of German middle-class values. It is simply told and Fassbinder eschews flashy dramatic devices but the film remains a direct and honest account of the plight of both these lonely souls.
Fassbinder was to make many films after this and continued his reign as the most controversial of the New Wave figures, perhaps a reflection of his drug fuelled, society baiting, overtly bisexual lifestyle (filling the tabloids in Germany with regularity). His films frequently addressed taboo subjects and each new project had the aura of "What will he do next?" about it. His death in 1982, from a heart attack brought on by a prodigous drug cocktail, robbed the cinema world of one of its most interesting directors. Interestingly, as pointed out in the booklet essay by Johnathan Rosenbaum Fassbinders' star dropped almost immediately from the firmament after his death and he is now one of the least remembered auteurs. El Hedi fared no better. He was Fassbinder's lover at the time of the film. He killed three people with a knife and hanged himself whilst awaiting charges in prison. Fassbinder learnt of his suicide only shortly before he himself died.
Fear Eats the Soul is too small a film to be considered a masterpiece but it is a suprisingly effeective melodrama helped by an excellent performance from Mira as Emmi.El Hedi as the lonely Moroccan was dubbed but his physical presence and performance are also effective. Lovers of the German New Wave will certainly snap up this release and invest heavily in the future Fassbinder releases. However,Fear Eats the Soul will appeal to a much wider film fan, including anyone who likes a good melodrama.
Fear Eats the Soul was shot on 35mm film. It is presented on DVD at a 1.33:1 ratio in a full frame transfer. IMDB lists the film as having a 1.37:1 negative ratio but an European widescreen "intended ratio" of 1.66:1. Whatever the intended ratio it is clear that the 1.33:1 ratio or thereabouts is the only ratio available on DVD.
Lovers of low budget European cinema may be suprised at how well this film has transferred to DVD. The picture quality is not exactly crisp but it is more than adequate. The film grain is light but noticeable throughout.
Being a mid-70's film the colours on offer - browns, oranges and greens are pretty hideous to behold but they are rendered accurately. The flesh tones are mostly quite accurate. Compression is no problem and I couldn't detect any aliasing.
Most importantly, the print is quite clear of defects with only minimal blemishes on show. Fassbinder uses a curious fade-out technique throughout which results in a loss of image quality for a brief moment but it is no big issue. There is a noticeable difference in the picture quality in the scene when the married couple are leaving the church but I would suspect that this was an issue in the film itself.
The subtitles are yellow and easy to read. Ali speaks in pidgin German which is translated into pidgin English for the subtitles.
Fear Eats the Soul carries a Dolby Digital mono German soundtrack running at 192 Kb/s.
The soundtrack is perfectly adequate for the film which is really a chamber piece. The dialogue can be heard clearly and there are no physical defects with the soundtrack. The occasional music sounds adequate.
Audio sync does suffer from time to time. El Hedi was dubbed for the film and occasionally the sync is a little off. It is not too bad though.
|Surround Channel Use|
The commentary track is by Mark Freeman, a cinema academic at La Trobe University. Freeman is refreshingly direct in his approach to the commentary. It is well researched providing cinema enthusiasts with a snapshot of Fassbinder and his place in German cinema. Freeman traces the history of German cinema from the Weimar era, through the Nazi era outflux to Hollywood, the tentative Heimat years and eventually the New German Cinema. He is alive also to Sirk and the melodrama form. We get a potted guide to Fassbinder the artist as well as Fassbinder the man - complex artist that he was.
The short feature A Powerful Political Potential has already appeared on a Madman DVD - the All That Heaven Allows set. Todd Haynes is, of course, no stranger to Sirk, Fassbinder or the melodrama form, having made Far From Heaven, another take on the All That Heaven Allows story. The Haynes version not only features the class issues of Sirk but the race issues of Fassbinder and gay themes thrown in for good measure!
Haynes is an excellent communicator and a genuine cinema lover. His theme here is that Fassbinder found in Sirk and the melodrama form a manner of delivering a poweful social critique using the popular form of melodrama rather than the polemical didactic, Marxist cinema which abounded in alternative cinema circles in the 60's and 70's. A short but fascinating featurette.
The theatrical trailer is worth watching if you wish to see everything that happens in the film compressed into a 3 minute nutshell.
There is a booklet insert which contains two essays. One is by critic and general legend Johnathan Rosenbaum who finds Fassbinder, though mostly forgotten now, to be just as topical a filmmaker now in the absence of his notoriety and the social context of the film. Justin Vicari provides the other essay which deals with the film at a more micro level that Rosenbaums more freewhelling essay. Both are excellent and very readable.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
This film is available in Region 1 and Region 2 (UK and Germany)
It is part of the Criterion Collection in Region 1 which means that there are a wealth of extras available on the dual DVD set. As well as the film and trailer the set includes:
Fear Eats the Soul is perhaps the most enjoyable of Fassbinder's films perhaps because his leads are so likable (compared to other Fassbinder characters) and the love story so genuine.
Though very much in the 70's no fan of the film could be disappointed at the transfer given to this film.
The extras are a little thin but the commentary and the essays do provide a guide to the movie and the quirky master himself.
|DVD||Pioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
|Display||Pioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||JBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer|